Dew-covered prairie…

yellow flowers covered in dew


yellow flowers covered in dew against a blue sky


When I stepped through the door this morning the world was sparkling. We have not had dew for months and it was spectacular as the sun glistened off the dew. Here are a few of the plants I saw on my walk.










grass head with dew drops on it

Indian Grass Seed Head

purple flower and grass seed head

Rough Blazing Star (left), Indian Grass Seed Head (right)

spider web

Spider on its Web

grass seed head and yellow flowers covered in dew

Indian Grass Seed Head (left), Prairie Dock Flowers (right)

grass head that looks like a bird foot

Big Bluestem Grass Seed Head

yellow flowers covered in dew

Stiff Goldenrod Flowers

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No rain in sight…

fingers of purple flowers with orange

Leadplant just starting to flower.

spikes of purple flowers with orange

Flowering Leadplant

It’s been a crazy year of weather. If we were just to list the highlights it would sound like we were in the midst of an apocalypse movie… wildfires, heat waves, floods, droughts…

Here in Southwestern Wisconsin we are in the midst of a drought. It was an almost snowless winter followed by an early and unusually hot spring, then a late frost, then by a summer without rain and temperatures in the 9oF˚s and low 100F˚s. We’ve been setting records all over the place. We’ve broken temperature highs and record lows for rain. 

While the corn is stressed and lawns are brown and crunchy some prairie plants are happily carrying on. It’s been a beautiful year for leadplant. We’ve been finding small leadplants throughout the prairie. What has been most spectacular this year is the bushes that have flowered throughout the prairie. Since we have not burned for a few years we have leadplant bushes… 3 feet high. Currently the drought does not seem to be affecting the leadplant. (Next year may tell a different story.) Why is leadplant still green and flowering when other plants are shrivleing up? It may have something to do with the fact they their roots can go down 15-20 feet or maybe more. With roots this deep they may be tapping into an unground water source not available to a lot of our cultivated plants, whose roots are mostly along the surface. Due to the deep roots many prairie plants are drought tolerant… this does not guarantee they will survive a drought, but it gives them a fighting chance of surviving.

Back in 2010 I posted a table of some prairie plant roots. To see the table check out my post ‘In awe of prairie roots…’

If history is your thing you might enjoy Garden History Girl’s post ‘Prairie Studies, J.E. Weaver’ about his study of prairie plant roots. This post includes lots of great root images and link leading to pdfs of his original research.

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Who’s home in the prairie…

large hole in the ground

Hole that appeared over night.

Just the other day as we were leaving for work I noticed this large excavation beside the driveway. Someone new was moving in. Not sure who, but I’m guessing a groundhog/woodchuck.

Besides the new woodchuck home, we also have a new yard cat… a beautiful calico cat. It runs away if we walk outside, but seems quite comfortable hunting near the house. Normally I would worry because I don’t like the fact that some cats hunt birds, but this one seems to be hunting ground squirrels and mice… and we have an overpopulation problem when it comes to ground squirrels! It’s cute when you see seven small heads sticking out of a hole, but not great when their tunnels keep expanding and they’re living off your garden. When you have an abundance of prey nature has a way of sending in predators to keep the population in check. The milk snakes and hawks don’t seem to be keeping up so now they have some help.

Other new arrivals include the fawn we saw nestled in the tall grass of the prairie and an upland sandpiper. The past few years we’ve had an upland sandpiper in the area. When Lilly and I are walking the upland sandpiper is often flying over head… while I have not seen it’s nest I have heard  it calling and seen it flying back and forth across the prairie. Having an upland sandpiper in the area is a treat since they are protected species and prefer large open landscapes such as prairie and fields. The upland sandpiper will hopefully have a home here for a very long time in the future since the neighbors 200+ acres (currently CRP grassland) will become a conservation area that is part of the Southwest Wisconsin Grassland and Stream Conservation Area (SWGSCA).

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Busy… busy… busy…

sun rise over a foggy valley

Early Morning in the Driftless Area

spiderweb with dew on itIt’s been a while since I’ve posted anything and part of this blog is about phenology… what is coming up out in the prairie. Lilly and I have still been walking the prairie daily and I’ve been taking photos of various plants as they bloom. I, however, have been busy getting ready for my first art show… and it turns out that it is a lot more work then I thought. It seemed like an easy thing… display my photos and jewelry. Then when you start getting ready there are all kinds of things that you need to make it happen.

Display on what? So we’ve been making displays, ordering photos, getting cards printed, making jewelry and buying packing material. Well, it’s all coming together and not too soon… the Spring Art Tour is next week.

I have written in the past about area art tours I’ve enjoyed. This year I will be experiencing the a studio tour from the other side. I am part of the Mount Horeb Area Art Association Spring Art Tour.

Spring Art Tour
Mount Horeb Area Open Studios Event
June 8-10, 2012: Fri-Sun, 10am-5pm daily

If your in the area please stop by, say ‘hey’, check out my photography and jewelry, and walk the prairie I write about often here in Reflections from the Prairie.

2 pendants one etched copper the other sterling silver

Etched Copper with Turquoise (left); Leopard Skin Jasper Set in Sterling Silver (right)

necklace in red, black, grey and silver

Necklace made with a vintage broach, vintage key and glass beads.

Next post will include some phenology!

Photos can be purchase at
Jewelry can be found at .

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When it’s time to burn…

large grass fire

Burning at Sundown

large grass fire

As the fire takes off.

When is the right time to burn? Prairies (savanas or woodlands) should be burned every several years… usually when the fuel builds up. This is usually thatch in the case of prairies.

The time of year plays a role in when you burn. You can burn almost anytime there is not snow on the ground, but season is something to take into consideration when deciding to burn. While you could burn in the summer few people do. A summer burn would be burning mostly green plants, resulting a very black smokey fire. The most common seasons to burn are spring and fall, with the majority of burns taking place in the spring. Spring burns encourage forbs (flowers) while fall burns encourage grasses. In an average spring the ideal time to burn is between April 15 and May 1, but you need to watch nature to know it’s time to burn. If you have very early flowers, as we do, you need to do spring burns very, very early… before the plants emerge.

When we first started to restore our 2 acres we were trying to set back Eurasian brome grasses. To tackle the brome grasses we burned when the grass was a couple of inches high. This set the brome back. While we have not totally eliminated the brome grasses it has weakened it in places enough to allow the prairie grasses to get established. Our hope is that eventually the native plants will be able to out compete the brome grass and push it out.

When deciding to burn you need to understand what you’re hoping to achieve with the burn. Do you want to encourage forbs or grass? Are you trying to target a specific problem?

Large grass fire. Smoke rises above the trees.

Smoke rises above the trees.

Once you’ve decided to burn you need to watch and wait for the weather to cooperate. Before burning, whether it’s on a large or small scale, you should check the fire danger. In Wisconsin the DNR has a great map that shows the danger by county, To burn when conditions are not right would mean losing control of the fire. You don’t want strong winds. We most often burn our prairie in the evening. This is when the winds die down and the dew point is higher. This lowers our chance of losing control and burning though our neighbor’s field.

The burn pictured here is not our burn, but one we came across on the way home from work. It was conducted at night because currently Wisconsin’s fire danger is high… and the due point is higher.

As we watched this burn we could see how the fire had been set and how it was moving as planned. As we watched it was obvious that this was done by a knowledgeable crew. It was a thing of beauty!

After the burn more beauty is sure to come as plants grow in. Many native plants benefit from fire. Their seeds are often stimulated to grow by the fire. Some seed just sit around in the soil waiting for a nice fire to come through and open the seed coating. I’m sure this area will be beautiful this summer!

If you wish to see more photos of this burn…

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Bursting with beauty and drama…

white and pink flowers on trees

Magnolia Trees in Bloom at the UW Arboretum

light pink flower

Saucer Magnolia

While the prairie is still mostly brown with a bit of green peaking through, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Arboretum is bursting with blooms! In their tree specimen area there is a large collection of magnolias. In the spring it is a beautiful place to visit.

I love magnolias, but we could never grow one where we live. While a star magnolia might survive the weather outside the city, the flowers would not survive the wind. They would bloom, look pretty for a day or so, and then the wind would blow all the lovely petals off.

The Arboretum’s specimens area is a sheltered area where magnolias bloom happily and petals drop softly to the ground when blooms are done. This is why I always try to drop by the Arboretum in the spring to see the blooms. There is a wonderful collection of magnolias… star and saucer magnolias.

2 white flowers

White magnolias almost finished blooming.

pink flowers and white flowers

Saucer Magnolias (pink) and Star Magnolias (white)

When I visited several days ago the magnolias with white flowers were just about done blooming. The pink saucer magnolias were in full bloom and the yellow magnolias were just starting to bud… with a few flowers just opening.

pink flower - close-up of the center of the flower

Center of a Saucer Magnolia Flower

I strolled amongst the trees enjoying the magnolias, taking lots of photos and smelling the flowers. If you’re in or near Madison, Wisconsin, now is a great time to drop by the Arboretum. If you can’t get there for a week or so and miss the magnolias never fear, the fruit trees and lilacs will bloom next. That is sure to be a beautiful too!

cascade of large pink flowers

Cascade of Magnolia Flowers (Shot from the trunk looking out.)

pink large flowers

Different Colored Saucer Magnolias from Different Trees

center of large magnolia - petals are white inside, but dark pink outside

Saucer Magnolia
Note: Petals are white inside while dark pink outside.

yellow buds and flower starting to opne

Yellow magnolias were just starting to bloom.

light pink flowers - clusters of the them and then a single flower

Saucer Magnolias

large light pink flower

Close-up of a Saucer Magnolia

large dark pink flowers

Saucer Magnolias

deep pink flower in a tree

dark pink flowers in the trees

Magnolias in the Tree

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Now the party can begin…

purplish-white flowers with yellow centers, close to the ground

Pasque Flowers

purplish-white flowers with yellow centers

Pasque Flowers

I’ve been watching for them all week and then this morning I spotted them. The pasque flowers were up and blooming!

Pasque flowers are one of our earliest and most spectacular native spring flowers. They are found in dry, rocky, and gravely prairies.

Besides spotting the pasque flowers, I also saw the first bluebird of the season and a tree full of meadowlarks… even almost stepped on a garter snake sunning itself on the path. Now that all the stars of the prairie are accounted for the party can start!

The show is ever changing throughout the spring, summer, and fall. I will be waiting and enjoying each of the discoveries as they arrive!

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